Whau ACE provides community education in West Auckland. Their programmes include English Conversation, Computer and Technology for Beginners, Starting Your Own Business, Money Matters, a Jobcafe, and a Job Hub – as well as ILETS Preparation, Te Reo Māori, and art.

With the exception of the last four, all programmes were offered online at the start of the lockdown, and the Whau ACE Facebook page became a go-to place for up-to-date information and messages.

Theresa Christie, who is the Manager at Whau ACE, says they saw Level 4 coming so they actually began the Computers and Technology course before the lockdown started: It is a course for mature learners, older people who perhaps get a new phone and other device and want to know how to use them. So the tutors organised the classes, and got everyone their Zoom links. Each week there were between 13 and 18 in the classes, with tutors picking up on what participants want to talk about. The breakout room was used, so people enjoyed some more intimate time. It meant, says Theresa, that they got to know each other a lot better than they often do in a physical classroom.

Since the lockdown, the online Intermediate English Conversation classes for more confident speakers, have been offered on Zoom both during the day and in the evening. These sessions provide an unstructured conversation time, where people can talk about whatever they like. Attendance has been high, especially in the evening session.

Two programmes that have been particularly useful during this time are Start Your Own Business and Money Management programmes.

People can sign up to Start Your Own Business if they want to get some practical help on how to turn an idea that they have into a business, bringing a bit more money into the home. The tutors help them work though their idea and decide whether it is going to work. If it looks a possibility, they can be provided with information on things like legal requirements. During Levels 4 and 3 they had five people getting help with this, one of whom had recently lost their job as a result of the virus.

Money Matters is another programme, rather than a course. It often begins with one member of a family asking for help, but always moves to include the whole whānau getting involved in the process of everyone getting on the same page in terms of the way they value money as well as jointly developing a budget and tracking expenditure. During Levels 4 and 3 Whau ACE had five families working on their finances, all done through regular Zoom meetings.

During the lockdown the Job Cafe for people looking for work was also transferred onto a weekly Zoom meeting. Each week 15-20 people joined this session which provided support for people during these difficult times. People came and could then drop out as their needs were met. One to one support on the phone or via email was provided to each person as required for things like cv assistance and career counselling.

The Job Hub remains as it has always been – a place where vacancies are listed.

When Alert Level 2 was introduced staff went back to the office and people could come in, providing they had an appointment. “However,” says Theresa “on day one the phone was busier than normal, with people saying that they had a preference for phone or digital interviews.

“Being forced to move into online learning has been positive. Technology is a big part of our lives, but we have been afraid to use it. We’ve found that in fact it suits a lot of our learners. For example, our seniors in their computer and technology classes appear to be happy and confident learning in Zoom meetings and we now have more people than ever before in the intermediate English conversation classes. This is because they now have the choice of two times, they don’t need to leave home and they can fit the classes around work. Prior to the lockdown we were taking these English classes out to libraries – and people like that too – so we will go back to it if we can. Online learning is another string to our bow – and we are not short of being able to meet out contracted learning outcomes.”